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Category Archives: Realistic Fiction


Happy new year, merry late Christmas, happy really late Thanksgiving, and happy super late Halloween. Yeah, I’ve been kind of disappearing when it comes to blogging recently, but I just haven’t had the time to get on posting when I start having the craving to make comics and I have to get my creativity flowing and it just takes a while. Luckily, I’m back in time for the break of 2014, and let’s see what it has to offer.

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Let’s look at some movies.

  • Ride Along - What you’d get if you took Friday, turned it into another cheesy action comedy, and replaced Chris Tucker with Kevin Hart. (1/17/14)
  • I, Frankenstein - Rebooting the story of Frankenstein for a new generation, and now we have Harvey Dent as Frankenstein. (1/24/14)
  • The Lego Movie - You don’t need to check your monitor, this actually exists. And the trailer looks surprisingly epic. And the roster is pretty impressive–if you consider Channing Tatum, Will Ferrell, and Jonah Hill to collectively be “impressive”. (2/7/14)
  • Muppets Most Wanted - The Muppets go touring in Europe, and the most wanted criminal in the world happens to look just like Kermit. You can connect the dots. (3/21/14)
  • Divergent - The movie of the book. It’s the future, Chicago is split into five factions, Tris takes a test, she doesn’t fit into a faction cuz she’s Divergent, she discovers something sinister happening in her utopian society, blah blah blah. It has a budget bigger than that of The Hunger Games, so it better be worth its hype. (3/21/14)
  • Noah - Basically, when God was unsatisfied with the world and tried to bring apocalypse to it and Noah built that ark for all that animals: the movie. Just as it was told in the Bible. Oh, and Emma Watson shows up. (3/28/14)
  • Rio 2 - Apparently people liked that movie, and it looks like the same movie except it’s in the Amazon and we learn that Jewel has a dad and–incoming narrative hook–his habitat is in danger! “Le gasp” indeed. (4/11/14)
  • The Amazing Spider Man 2 - Electro and the Rhino. The only new things about this sequel. (5/2/14)
  • Legend of Oz: Dorothy’s Return - This movie tries to add something new to something that’s already perfect. Five new characters (a giant talking marshmallow, a china doll, a “tree-turned tugboat”, and an owl), and the biggest threat is that some Jester is going to turn iconic Ozzians (that’s what it’s called right?) into marionettes. Really? (5/9/14)
  • Godzilla - Finally, something that looks good. Godzilla ’98 was the Razzie-winning black sheep of the series (the only thing it got right was its visuals, and I think they screwed even that up), but luckily this cream looks big enough and strong enough to cover that nasty zit. Anyway, this movie is Godzilla vs. malevolent creatures “bolstered by humanity’s scientific arrogance”. Does this mean another Pacific Rim, or is this a metaphor saying that it’s Godzilla vs the real monsters–us? (5/16/14, which is two months earlier than Japan. Oh, the irony.)
  • Maleficent - A Sleeping Beauty prequel-reboot combo through the eyes of the bad guy. This is new. And what’s this, they cast Angelina Jolie as Maleficent? And what’s this…they made Sleeping Beauty a teenager? Uh… (5/30/14)
  • The Fault In Our Stars - The classic love story between a teen girl with thyroid cancer and an ex-basketball player who lost his right leg to osteosarcoma gets adapted to the big screen. It’s a freaking maple tree, it looks so sappy. (6/6/14)
  • How To Train Your Dragon 2 - I didn’t know you could Neville Longbottom so much in four years. (That’s right, it’s a verb now describing drastic changes in courage and heroism over time.) Anyway, Hiccup took a few levels in badbutt and new adventures with him and Toothless await. (6/13/14)
  • Transformers: Age of Extinction - It’s an entirely new arc and it stars an entirely new cast, so can you blame me for throwing it under the bus immediately? If it grosses over a billion, I will lose faith in the sci-fi action genre forever. (6/27/14)
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - Caesar and his boys vs. the survivors of the virus. The prize? Supremacy as the dominant species of the world. (7/11/14)
  • The Boxtrolls - From the guys who brought you those scary stop-motion movies (Paranorman and Coraline) comes another seemingly-not-scary stop-motion movie where underground trash collectors called Boxtrolls who raised an orphan who now has to save them from an exterminator. What. (9/26/14)
  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day - I don’t even have to explain this. If you said you didn’t read that book as a kid, I wouldn’t believe you for a second. (10/10/14)
  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 - Katniss leads the districts in a rebellion against the Capitol and has to make a lot of crucial decisions as the war of fate escalates quickly with horrific consequences. (11/21/14)
  • Home - I can’t believe what I’m about to type. They made a movie on The True Meaning of Smekday with Sheldon Cooper, Rihanna, Steve Martin, and they even got J.Lo! No, the real J.Lo! Words cannot express my elation. (11/26/14)
  • Exodus - Basically when all the Jews left Egypt and Moses led them: the movie. Just as recalled in the Bible (or The Prince of Egypt). In this case, all the Jews leave Egypt and Christian Bale leads them. Uh… (12/12/14)
  • The Hobbit: There and Back Again - Didn’t think the end of the Bilbo arc would be so near, would it? (12/17/14)

Most anticipatedHome (Mockingjay P1 was a close second)

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Now, some video games.

  • Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition - Basically Tomb Raider for next-gen consoles. (1/28/14; PS4, XBO)
  • Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z - 2012’s DBZ for Kinect was an embarrassment to the game series, so Namco Bandai wants to try to redeem themselves. If you liked Zenkai Battle Royale, the game mechanics aren’t too different. With a redundant name like that, it could very much be digging its own grave.  (1/28/14; PS3, X360, Vita)
  • Lighting Returns: Final Fantasy XIII - This game picks up where XIII-2 left off and ties up the loose ends of XIII‘s story, part of the Fabula Nova Crystallis subseries later to feature the mobile Agito as well as FFXV. (2/11/14; PS3, X360)
  • Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare - This is the strangest art shift I’ve ever seen in anything. Looks to be an interesting shooter. (2/18/14; XBO, X360)
  • Thief - Master thief Garrett popularized the stealth genre just as well as Solid Snake could, and now he’s getting a reboot. However, it risks mimicking the already successful Dishonored, so let’s hope it has some fresh tricks up their sleeve. (2/25/14; PC, PS3, PS4, X360, XBO)
  • South Park: The Stick of Truth South Park has already made a huge mark on American animated television, helping codify the raunchy, off-color adult humor that we see in most animated sitcoms. Among many people, I first got a taste of the game via Game Informer, and it seems to be the RPG of the year…if it doesn’t get delayed again. (3/4/14; PC, PS3, X360)
  • Titanfall - Fast-paced action, cloud services, and robots. It’s not surprising that the game had a huge splash at E3 and won sixty awards at the show! People are already saying it’ll be the next big landmark in the FPS genre, and be the secret weapon for the One. Wait…it’s multiplayer-only? Uh… (3/11/14; PC, X360, XBO)
  • Dark Souls II - Dark Souls did pretty good a couple years ago, and this sequel appears to be just as hard. The game boasts a juicier graphics engine and better AI, and it might not even have an easy mode. So if you don’t like hard games, step away. But if you like challenges, be my guest.  (3/11/14; PC, PS3, X360)
  • Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes - To hold you off until Phantom Pain, Konami has the first half of the MGSV arc for you. This picks up where Peace Walker left off, chronologically one year later and nine years before Phantom Pain. (3/18/14; PS3, PS4, X360, XBO)
  • Infamous: Second Son - The One has Killer Instinct, and the PS4’s trying to combat that with the new Infamous, with a new character and new twists on old powers. (3/21/14; PS4)
  • Diablo III: Reaper of Souls - Apparently now Diablo‘s getting into the expansion pack game like Warcraft, and here’s the first of what could be a plentiful add-on series. (3/25/14; PC, Mac, PS4)
  • Destiny - Bungie’s first post-Halo game, and my most anticipated game of the year. (Plus it’s on 360, so there’s non need to upgrade!) A prosperous period of advancement has screeched to a halt with the Collapse, after which mankind could face extinction. You are one of the survivors, the Guardians of the City, and you must protect the little remains of humanity from demolition. (9/9/14; X360, XBO, PS3, PS4)
  • Sunset Overdrive - The game’s bouncy visuals and enthralling gameplay put it really high on my most-anticipated list–actually, it’s bested only by Destiny. It’s like Viewtiful Joe in 3D as a shooter. There’s gonna be ziplines and wall-running and even some acrobatics, so I expect some Mirror’s Edge thrown in the puree as well. It’s also gonna be using Microsoft’s cloud services a lot, but I’m not a cloud gamer. Still excited. (sometime; XBO)
  • The Sims 4 The Sims 3 and its umpteen expansion packs was one of the defining parts of my childhood, so I expect The Sims 4 to be way better. The PC sales of the past three games have been staggering, and I expect nothing less than true brilliance, whether it be better graphics or better mechanics. However, you do need an account on Origin (think EA’s take on Steam) and Internet access as the game initially installs. Kind of chips at my hopes, but it still looks awesome. (Q3/Q4; PC, Mac)
  • Watch Dogs - I’ve heard about this game for a while, and my thoughts of it have whittled down to “Dishonored with a hacker and none of the cool super powers.” There’s also some parkour promised to show up, and some cover-based TPS stuff too (Hitman much?). And for a game that has five collector’s editions (special, Vigilante, Uplay Exclusive, Limited, and Dedsec), it seems like it’ll match the hype pretty well. (Q2; PC, PS3, PS4, WiiU, X360, XBO)

Most anticipatedDestiny (Sunset Overdrive was a close second)

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Now, some upcoming books.

  • Hollow City by Ransom Riggs - In the sequel to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Jacob and his Welsh homies go to London where all those creepy children are at. Miss P’s bro Caul is able to steal the kids’ “abilities”. Cue another fight for survival. (1/14/14; 352 pgs)
  • Sorry You’re Lost by Matt Blackstone - Denny “Donuts” Murphy has just suffered the passing of his mom, and to cope with that he becomes a class clown. But in Donuts’ core is a happy place where his mother still lives and his dad doesn’t watch TV all day. Donut and his buddy try to score dates for the year-end dance, a mission in which Donuts learns some important morals that could change him for the better. (1/21/14, 320 pgs)
  • Almost Super by Marion Jensen - Each leap year at an exact time, each 12+-year old member of the Baileys gets a superpower. The two newest recipients, Rafter and Benny, get let down with suckish powers. The big bad of the story ends up sparking a war between her family and the Baileys. To be honest, I lost them at “superpower”. (1/21/14; 256 pgs)
  • Cress by Marissa Meyer - In the third entry of the Lunar Chronicles, Cinder and her band of misfits are still plotting to overthrow Queen Levana. Their best hope is to go to Cress, an OP hacker who ironically is searching for them (eeeeviiillll). Stuff happens. (2/4/14; 560 pgs)
  • Timmy Failure: Now Look What You’ve Done by Stephan Pastis - In the sequel to Mistakes Were Made, there’s a school competition to find a globe for a cash prize, but someone’s trying to hijack. It’s up to Timmy and his polar-bear partner Total and his new eccentric ally Great-Aunt Colander to find an end to the madness. (2/25/14; 288 pgs)
  • Game Over, Pete Watson by Joe Schreiber and Andy Rash - A boy finds out his dad is a superspy that is trapped inside a game, so he has to use his gaming skills to enter the game and rescue him. To be honest, I lost them at “superspy”. (3/11/14, 224 pgs)
  • Sean Rosen Is Not For Sale by Jeff Baron - Y’know Sean, that guy who’s trying to pitch a movie idea to Hollywood? Alright, so now not only is he working on his script, but he has school, track, dog-walking, podcasts, and keeping his secret from his parents, all while a private detective has been sent to find out about Sean. To be honest, I lost them at “podcasts”. (3/18/14; 384 pgs)
  • The Ninja Librarians by Jennifer Swann Downey - It just sounds dumb, doesn’t it? Wait until you hear the plot. Alright, so a girl and her bro are chasing her mongoose through a library when they get into the janitor’s closet and fall into a secret pathway to the HQ of a society of…y’know. There’s a betrayal, she and her pals take the blame, and they need to clear their names. To be honest, I lost them at “mongoose”. (4/1/14; 384 pgs)
  • Poached by Stuart Gibbs - In the sequel to Belly Up, a horrible prank set up by a school bully leaves a koala missing. Teddy gets thrown under the bus since he’s the only one coming and going on camera, and he needs to find the real culprit and fast, because juvie is calling his name. (4/8/14; 336 pgs)
  • Renegade by Debra Driza - That android Mila I was talking about meets a boy who joins her to find some guy who knows about her past but people are looking for her. Basically, it’s the same book with some boy. (5/13/14; 448 pgs)
  • The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan - The fifth and final installment of Heroes of Olympus. Many are either fighting their emotions of seeing it go or complaining loudly about how they have to wait a year to see how it all ends. Mother Earth “Gaea” is still a strong foe and her giants must be stopped before the Feast of Spes where she plans to kill two demigods to receive (title) to awaken. To be honest, I lost them at “Gaea”. (10/7/14; 608 pgs)

Most anticipated: I don’t even know.

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Well, I think I did pretty good to sum up the year! Leave anything you think I missed in the comments. Here’s to a great new year that’s bound to be full of awesomeness courtesy of Sammwak!

Stay classy,

~S~ 8-)

Video of the Week: “Why I love my Honda VT750” by Nick Bertke aka Pogo, the guy whose mixes I’ve been uploading and gushing about to a fault. In this video, he drives around on his motorcycle, talks about it, admires the vista, and explains why the original Star Wars trilogy will always be superior to the new trilogy. All while we get to see some beautiful Australian scenery.

My favorite video from 2013.

The cutest thing I’ve ever seen.



If you’ve been following me and my good friend the Jolly Good Bookie on Google+, you would already know of some grim news I must tell you. The Bookie found out that he wasn’t a real person and was just something I created for my own benefits, so he quit. That’s right, the JGB is no longer associated with Sammwak. Looks like I’m going to have to grab the reins and introduce something new. I know I haven’t made a review in a while–heck, I haven’t made a post in a while ever since school clogged my schedule. First off, I’m sorry. Secondly, I want to try something new. Once a month, I’ll release several reviews crammed into one post, alongside some news and upcoming titles in the bookverse. Welcome to BookBuzz.

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Reviews

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Fast food has received lots of osmosis in the pop culture of America. With thousands of restaurants around the country that serve millions (if not billions) of people and then plague televisions with their commercials, it’s very hard to avoid the growing phenomenon of unhealthy deliciousness. Some people love its taste, others hate its effect. But have you ever stopped to wonder how all of this came to be? In the novel Chew On This by Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson, you find out just that. The matter is broken down simplistically to give you a history lesson and a behind-the-scenes look at big fast food brands and what dark secrets they’re hiding from the public. In this book, you will learn about…

  • How the hamburger was invented
  • How McDonald’s was born
  • How McDonald’s inspired the birth of tons of restaurants in its wake
  • How chickens are slaughtered
  • How fries are made
  • Why meat grinding is a more dangerous job than you think
  • What E.coli is and how lethal it can be
  • And much much more!

Chew is one of the few novels that actually gives me information and not trivia. As the tagline says, this book taught me “everything you don’t want to know about fast food”. And after reading it, I frankly did not want to know this about fast food. The writing provides an honest and fascinating undertone as the book changes subjects, and it doesn’t feel droned. They didn’t just copy and paste their research, do a little paraphrasing, and publish it. Never once was it not interesting, and it was sapid enough to the point where I’d actually want to keep reading. Few nonfiction books can pull that sensation out of me. Definitely a book you should read if you’re addicted to fast food or if you’re in an on-off relationship with it, like me.

FINAL SCORE: ★★★★★

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“I am Ivan. I am a gorilla. It’s not as easy as it looks.” Thus begins the most heartwarming story of the year. Now, before I even tell you what the book is about, look at the author of it. Katherine Applegate. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Now, take away the “therine”. Now you have KA Applegate. Yes, that KA Applegate. The lady who spent the 90s writing Animorphs went on to win the Newbery Medal. Wow.

Anyway, The One and Only Ivan is about the titular Ivan, a silverback gorilla who lives the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. He has grown to living a life of people watching him all the time, and never once does he ever think about his old life in the jungle. His thoughts are about shows he’s seen and his friends Stella (an elderly elephant) and Bob (a stray dog). Above all, Ivan has a penchant for art and is always thinking about how he can capture the taste of fruit with crayons and an open imagination. Then as a baby elephant named Rudy is added to the Exit 8 crew, the tides begin to change, and Ivan must make sure the tides go in the right directions as he becomes a papa wolf for little Rudy.

As you can tell, Ivan is a very heartfelt novel that comes from a unique perspective. Never did you think a simian Shakespeare could swing in with such an amazing story. His streams of narration can hook a reader from page one and keep them there as the story unfolds in the next hundreds of pages to follow. Definitely a book that I did not see coming from the lady who wrote Animorphs, and definitely one that deserves the Newbery. Not only is it beautiful, but it also has its moments of humor. Ivan chucking “me-balls” of poop at people he hates will never not be amusing.

FINAL SCORE: ★★★★★

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James Patterson has a knack for just the right type of comedy — with the just right amount of heartwarming goodness. Whether it comes in a huge twist or a very subtle reveal, James does it right. And it’s epitomized in the first two volumes of the misadventures of Rafael “Rafe” Khatchadorian (pronounced “catch a door, Ian”). I mean, they were masterpieces! I’d love to go into detail, but I’ve already done that in some other reviews. Now, a big change is coming to Patterson’s third middle school story–Georgia’s taking the wheel. Yep, lil’ G has her own story to share in Middle School: My Brother Is A Big Fat Liar. And what a story it is.

G is starting middle school at Hills Village, the same place where Rafe left one heck of a mark. She plans to excel in all the fields her brother failed to clear the name of the Khatchadorians for good! G got so cocky, she even bet Rafe that she’d become popular. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done, as everyone’s now adapted to make school a living hell for anyone with the last name of Khatchadorian. Plus, there’s the Princess Patrol, a trio of snooty mean girls who rule the school and look devilishly good doing it. They’ve got their crosshairs on G and are willing to bully her every time the chance comes.

In the wake of her troubles, G is also crushing on an adorkable boy named Sam (no, not me) and befriending a loud-talking girl named Rhonda. Out of school — get this — G plays electric guitar for a band called The Awesomes. (Rafe doesn’t think they live up to their name. Why? Because he’s Rafe.) But Rafe’s not quite done yet. He wants to make his burden of the bet a lot lighter and plans to humiliate G in the worst ways. But could G actually be able to fight her odds and emerge on top?

When I finished My Brother Is A Big Fat Liar, I was disappointed if anything. Why?

    • I finished the book the same day I started it. (I took a few days separately to read through Rafe’s books.)
    • I don’t think the book’s name is very appropriate. The Worst Years of My Life makes sense because Rafe explains why middle school was the worst years of his life. Get Me Out of Here makes sense because Rafe wants to get out of here and explains why. G does nothing to explain why her brother is a big, fat liar beyond one page; she’s too busy telling her story.
    • It has the most predictable setup of all time to the most generic ending of all time. I mean, you know the ending before it’s even close to arriving, it’s so foreseeable.
    • Rhonda is so annoying.

On the bright side, the book still have traditional Patterson gags and charm, and the climax is absolutely jaw-dropping. In Patterson’s trademark fashion, I did not see that one coming. Even though the story’s flaws are mortal in the end, it’s still a decent read to hold us by for Rafe’s next adventure.

FINAL SCORE: ★★★

The Scholastic Graphix graphic novel lineup is full of great authors. Jeff Smith (Bone), Raina Telgemeier (Smile/Drama), Doug TenNapel (Bad Island/Cardboard), among others. But a name like Kazu Kibuishi caught my eye as early as the fifth grade. I was a huge Bone fanboy at this time so I pushed the book aside. But after reading and reviewing all nine books in the series, I decided to give the first installment, The Stonekeeper, a try. Kibuishi is now on my “graphic novel authors to watch” list, because that book was grandiose.

Our story ironically begins with a bang as the main characters–Emily and her little brother Navin–are involved in a tragic car accident that kills their father. Two years later, Emily’s mom is struggling to raise her kids by herself, so she moves them into a spacious old house inherited from Emily’s great-grandpa Silas. As Emily explores her new home, she finds a stone amulet that warns her that her family’s in danger. Before she even knows what the amulet’s capable of, Emily and Navin are thrown into a mission to rescue their mother in a subterranean world full of friends and foes.

This book’s storytelling is absolutely pristine even in the limits of 192 pages; and the story’s emotions whiplash from exciting action to tearjerking drama within pages. Emily and Navin are ordinary children that you can feel for as they embark on a journey of such proportions. Also, the illustrations are crisp and beautiful and impeccably follow along the storyline. That being said, the story arc is very simplistic with not enough rising and falling actions to fill in the holes before and after the climax. It’s a book that I blazed through while at the same time understanding what was going on, and that sort of let me down. But The Stonekeeper‘s “and the adventure continues” ending paves the way to a lot of sequels I need to plow through.

FINAL SCORE: 

Remember back in May 2012 when I made a review for the last Bone book, saying that JGB Bone was coming to an end? Well, I forgot about one spinoff book (and the handbook and the prequel and the Quest for the Spark series): Bone Tall Tales featuring Tom Sniegoski. In this book, campfire myths from our old smoking pal Smiley are used to answer questions like how Boneville was made, and how the Bones got lost in the valleys.

The book was only 128 pages, so it didn’t take me that long to finish. I was very disappointed. The book is nothing but mildly entertaining stories that give me some exposition and context about the Bones, but I wanted more. More story, more action, more laughs, more pages, more Bone that I expected out of this! And to think I was so excited to read this book. Hopefully Quest for the Spark will be a saving grace, because Jeff Smith is dangling off the edge off of my “graphic novel authors to watch” list.

FINAL SCORE: 



fwb

“It’s easy to lose your soul in high school.”

Maggie has been home schooled for years now, but now she’s a big girl. She’s going to make the transition from home school to public school as she goes into the ninth grade. She has three brothers that’s been watching over her for as long as she can remember, but Maggie just feels like she won’t be able to fit in. Maggie’s life has been stalked by a gray cloud of sorrow ever since her mom hit the road. Maggie’s never had any friends outside of family, but luckily she makes two friends, Lucy and Alistair. They eat lunch with her and take her on their adventures around town, but there’s one big secret she has.

MAGGIE IS HAUNTED.

Why she’s haunted, she doesn’t know. What it’ll take to free the spirit, she has to know. School hassles mixed with a harrowing haunting has Maggie’s hands way full. But in the end, she learns to see her brothers through a different perspective and learns the true story behind her sidekick in spirit.

I came across this on Common Sense Media, and it looked like a good read. It said something about “a ghostly twist”, so that hooked my attention. Some time later, the book shows up at the school libe and I decide to check it out. Ladies and gentlemen, I finished that book the same day. Doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment for a graphic novel, but still. I’ve read all nine Bone books, and each one took me a couple days to read to capture everything on the page. With this book, I could burn through it like I did The Tale of Desperaux. But we’re not here to talk about adequate graphic novel lengths, we’re here to talk about Friends With Boys. You have to understand that this is the full-length print debut of Faith Erin Hicks, author of another graphic novel called Zombies Calling. That sounds way more interesting than this. I was disappointed when I’d closed the book. Unsatisfied, like I was missing the main entree and being given just the sides. 

If I got this and saw that Jeff Smith or Doug TenNapel had written this, I’d be highly disappointed. But I have to lay off a bit of my flak since Hicks is a pawn at this game of chess. But I’m the chess-master. I know what and when things are coming. But I didn’t expect most of the things that occurred, but for all the wrong reasonsFriends with Boys, even on my belittled standards, was very mediocre. Maggie and her friends are lovable characters, I get that. It has all of the bullying and bad words of high school, and then it has a ghost. That’s how you describe the book in one sentence. The other thing I hate is that the ghost is mute. Maggie should’ve actually taken the time to talk to her and have her tell her story instead of having some boring exposition do it for her. That would’ve made her a much better character. I also would’ve preferred the ghost to be Maggie’s age, but that’s an unimportant complaint–also, it’s not my call.

Another pet peeve I have is that everyone seems to understand what Maggie’s going through. Imagine if someone said to you, “I’m haunted by a ghost.” Would you respond with “I completely understand”, or think that they’re sliding down the slippery slope of sanity? If you chose answer A, you’re just like the characters in this book. I loathe you for that. I know that other people have much warmer thoughts for this book, but I think I’ve just wiped Hicks off of my “graphic-novel-authors-to-watch” list. The only thing I’ll acclaim the book for is that it has darn good illustrations. Friends with Boys just fell flat in my opinion.

If you think that Ghostbusters tee was product placement, wait until you read the whole thing. (L to R: Maggie, Daniel, Lloyd, Zander)

Friends with Boys may be appealing illustration-wise, but it’s just a series of misguided plot lines and stale gags with little action. Hollow, but not with enough flaws to get you to shut the book. There are certainly better graphic novels out there, but I might be willing to give Hicks a second chance if she does release again in the not-too-distant future. But for now, she hasn’t hit that sweet chord yet.

FINAL SCORE: ★★★

If you liked Friends With Boys, check out:

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I hope you had as much fun reading this as I did writing this! Well, you know the algorithm–tune in, well, whenever for more awesomeness courtesy of Sammwak! Be sure to Like this post, and if you’re new don’t forget to haunt that subscribe button! You can also find Sammwak on Google+ where you can get more news and stuff there! You can also share it to your pals on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, and more!

Stay classy,

~S~ 8-)

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is considered by many to be the greatest video game ever made…now, let’s see how that holds up when I play it. This is just the beginning of a series that is currently six episodes long. The computer fan is still annoying as ever, and there’s also a watermark. This was the most primitive stuff I could find before upgrading to what I used in my Donkey Kong 64 video (which you can find in last week’s post). But nonetheless, enjoy, and if you like this one, knock yourself out with the other five.



Hey guys it’s Sam, and welcome to the long-awaited return of Jolly Good Bookie! Now, Diary of a Wimpy Kid could easily be the most popular realistic fiction novel of all time; it has inspired a colossus of merchandise including a 3-part movie series, and it has inspired a countless number of realistic fiction titles in its wake. “Wimpy Kid clones”, I like to call them. I’ve read tons of them: Dork DiariesBig Nate, Origami Yoda, and pretty much every Andrew Clements book, most notably Lunch Money.

Now, few realistic fiction authors do it right like Kinney did; for example, Lunch Money is one of my favorite realistic fiction books. So is The School Story, also written by Clements. Most authors go wrong attempting to make their story as derivative as possible, while not paying any heed to flaws like a thin plot or poor characterization. I can list so many books that have failed to do exactly this, and most have ended up on my list of the worst books of all time. The Loser List by HN Kowitt was a standout example of this. Its plot practically screamed Wimpy Kid: the middle school misadventures of a boy obsessed with comics. I read this book a while back, and here’s what I had to say about it:

“This book is an average Wimpy Kid decoy, and believe me, I’ve read tons of those (Dork Diaries, Big Nate, etc.), so I feel almost BAD for Mr. Kinney that tons of publishers couldn’t come up with anything original. And that’s what makes The Loser List…well…a loser! The storyline is cumbersome, the illustrations are rough-felt if not violent (save for the picture where a kid got ripped in half), and it feels like just an average walk in the park, trip on the rock, and dip in the fountain.”

But I guess the story was successful enough that Kowitt made two sequels, turning Loser List into an official series. This is sequel #1, so let’s see if Kowitt brought homemade to the table, or just went out and bought some pancake mix?

“Ty Randall must die.”

In a world full of Wimpy Kid doppelgangers, there’s Danny Shine. He’s returned, he’s ready, and he’s out for revenge! In Revenge of the Loser, Shine has successfully gotten his name off of the Loser List in the girls’ bathroom. But he quickly discovers that the List has become the least of his problems–his radar is focused on Ty Randall, a new kid with two six packs–one of muscle, and one of green tea. He’s contributed to more school programs than Danny cares to remember, with the main focus being on helping the environment. So for good measure, Ty’s a hippie. He’s attracting all of the girls at lunch like a magnet with his handsome looks and his serious tone. Even Danny’s secret crush, Asia O’Neill, is falling head over heels. The jealousy just builds up to the point where Danny snaps and concocts a complex plan to do Ty justice, but unfortunately true colors are shown and Danny must desperately repair the damage before it’s too late.

Revenge of the Loser definitely has something new to offer, and the story does focus more on itself than some goofy drawings or copying and pasting from Wimpy Kid. The infamous bathroom wall graffiti does return, but that’s probably as rogue as ROTL ever gets. Well, Chantal is kind of a gold-hearted jerk who shows her true hero at the end. But besides all of these new concepts, Revenge of the Loser is almost the exact same as its predecessor. At least the plot is structured better.

It somewhat pains me to say it, but I think Danny Shine has finally done Wimpy Kid justice. There, I said it myself. Revenge of the Loser comes packed with humor and heart–albeit derivative humor and heart–and definitely puts its predecessor in the shadows. Now, let’s just see if they can keep that up for Jinx of the Loser, or better yet, Take Me To Your Loser, hitting stores this September.

FINAL SCORE: ★★★

IF YOU LIKED THAT, CHECK OUT:

  • Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid by Megan McDonald
  • Lunch Money by Andrew Clements
  • Big Nate In A Class By Himself by Lincoln Peirce
  • Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson
  • The Last Invisible Boy by Evan Kuhlman

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Because I love my fans, I’ll make this a Jolly Good Bookie double feature! Carpe diem, baby! Anyway, what if A Series of Unfortunate Events met Mysterious Benedict Society? The result would probably be School of Fear, the young-audience debut of Gitty Daneshvari. The novel takes place at a very shady institution that few people have heard of, called the School of Fear. Run by Mrs. Wellington and her assistant Schmidty, the main goal of the School of Fear is to eradicate children’s fears over the course of a summer using “unorthodox” methods. This summer’s students are Theo Bartholomew, Madeleine Masterson, Garrison Feldman, and Lulu Punchalower. Theo is terrified of general death, Maddie of bugs (notably spiders), Gary of deep water, and Lulu of confined spaces.

I loved the ominous and gothic feel of the story as it went along, and how it mixed its dark chills and clever thrills with some quality laughs to keep the prose fresh. The story is exciting albeit predictable and tedious, and definitely one I do not regret reading when I find myself awake at 7 in the morning. (No, it’s not insomnia.) It showed that a good way–if not the only way–to face your fears is to tackle them head on, and it shows how difficult life can be while crippled by phobias. This is a good book to relate to; all humans really are afraid of something.

However, to me it frankly started to fall apart around and following the shocking climax; I found myself lost in the prose quite frequently on numerous occasions. I also kept asking myself if they were ever going to conquer their fears, but luckily Daneshvari has several aces up her sleeve to shrewdly guide the story. Other than that, School of Fear is a pretty tense and exciting adventure with underachieving predictability and noticeable tedium. I would definitely read the other two sequels in the trilogy–in fact, I have my hands on Class Is NOT Dismissed as I type, and as you read.

FINAL SCORE: ★★★★

IF YOU LIKED THAT, CHECK OUT:

  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket and Brett Helquist
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
  • The Candymakers by Wendy Mass
  • The Name of This Book Is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch
  • Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters by Rachel Vail and Matthew Cordell

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Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? Be sure to tune in same time next Friday for more awesomeness courtesy of Sammwak!

Stay classy,

~S~ 8-)

Videos of the Week: “THE PERFECT BOYFRIEND?” and “HOW TO BE A SALAD!” by PewDiePie. I wonder if he’ll become the most-subbed channel on YouTube by the end of the summer. I’M BETTING YOU, FOLKS!



I love English. I’ve always had a forte for writing and reading, and I’ve been telling my own stories since the second grade. Back then all I did was draw superhero comics fueled by Captain Underpants books, but albeit it did make me iconic in the classroom, as I matured so did my writing. I went from writing superhero comics to writing real picture-less stories. Sci-fi, horror, fantasy, realistic fiction, the whole nine yards. But during my middle school years, I met a great teacher whose name was Mr. Principe. Also known as Mr. P, P Diddy, “the Fresh Prince of ELA”, and his mustachioed alter ego “Prince”. He (Mr. P) called what he taught not English, but ELA (English language arts), but he taught it well. He gave me counsel and tips of how to make my writing more exciting (hey that rhymed), and his classroom doubled as a welcome reading environment. He had not one but three shelves of books crammed with novels including The Ear, The Eye, and the ArmEnder’s Game, HolesHIVE, and the first two Mysterious Benedict Society books. A couple of months ago, after finishing Max Cassidy: Escape from Shadow Island as a read-aloud story, he introduced us to this novel. I’ll never forget it.

Smells Like Dog, written by the author of Coffeehouse Angel and To Catch A Mermaid, revolves around the wild misadventure-filled romp that is the life of Homer Winslow Pudding. Yes, his last name really is Pudding. Homer is a countryside boy who lives on a goat farm in Milkydale with his parents and his sister Gwen, who is an aspiring taxidermist. Homer’s uncle Drake was eaten alive by a carnivorous mutant tortoise, and he aspires to be a treasure hunter like his uncle was, much against his father’s preferences. A man named Mr. Twaddle shows up at Homer’s door with his condolences and a single keepsake to inherit–a basset hound named Dog who has a very special coin on his collar. The catch about Dog is that he has no sense of smell, but when Homer leaves for the city to search for Rumpold Smeller’s treasure, he discovers his buddy’s true powers as he searches for the answers with a single clue: L.O.S.T. However, the treasure will not be an easy sweep, because every Peter Pan has his Captain Hook. In this case, Hook would be Madame la Director, who wants the treasure all for herself. Along the way Homer meets three new friends: Laura Lee (a pink-haired tomato soup girl), Ajitabh the Cloud Man (you heard me), and Zelda. No, not Zelda from Legend of Zelda (I wish), but the tall deep-voiced Zelda. With a band of unlikely companions, could Homer defeat Madame once and for all to save the treasure? Or will her diabolical plans come to fruition?

 

“A fantastic tale in every good sense of the word…both exhilarating and soulful.” – Rebecca Stead, Newbery Medal-winning author of When You Reach Me

“Full of fantastic characters…delightful humor, and wonderful adventures, this book is a treasure.” – Sarah Beth Durst, author of SFWA Andre Norton Award finalists Into the Wild and Ice

PRESENTATION: Smells Like Dog seemed like it was a modern-day Huckleberry Finn at first, but it turned into a fast-paced and mystery-filled adventure that had me second guessing along the way. Selfors molds her characters with astounding detail, well tracing Homer’s relationships with his friends in such a way that you’ll be mowing through numerous chapters at a time. (10/10)

STORY: A very unorthodox approach to the middle-grade adventure genre, both for better and for worse. The upside is, it’s a unique story with a staggering amount of detail that supports over 300 pages of story telling. The downside is, Selfors creates her story with so much detail that I very often found myself lost within the story’s events. I’m trying to recall a minor event as I type. Maybe that one time at the elevator where–er, maybe when Homer met Laura and–uh, see what I mean? Also, some of the story plot lines are just unrealistic. I’m pretty sure those cloudcopters should’ve been a red flag. (8/10)

FUN: Smells Like Dog is as fun to read as it is to picture, and with over 300 pages of adventure you can create a pretty good painting around that. Visiting the lair, the Realm of Reptiles, and other places is a blast with Selfor’s creative detail. (10/10)

STYLE: Aside from major detail and great storytelling, Homer’s adventure isn’t really that “stylish”. I’m not imagining like “James Bond walks away as an explosion occurs behind him” stylish. I’m imagining like “the story has some fluidity to it” stylish. However, it’s so heavily written that when I tried to swim in its seas of fluidity, I drowned. (9/10)

QUANTITY/QUALITYSmells Like Dog is nearly 400 pages long. Read my statements above and do the math. Alright, I’ll make an algebraic equation: say = story, = detail, = fluidity, and q = quality. If  sd – f + q = this book, solve for the variables.  (10/10)

FINAL VERDICTSmells Like Dog is one of the most innovative adventure novels you’ll ever read, a whimsical romp of an action-packed mystery that does heavy lifting with its detail for better and for worse. A rewarding read only for the most skilled readers, or those who enjoy stories about dogs and/or adventures. (9/10)

FINAL SCORE: Suzanne Selfors’ Smells Like Dog receives a 56/60, which is a 93% score that gives the book the final grade of an A.

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Well, how about that for a Sammwak double feature? Anyway, make sure to tune in next Friday for more awesomeness courtesy of Sammwak! I say Friday because I’ll be leaving again this weekend to Illinois, and I don’t have anything scheduled for next Monday. If it’ll be another double feature, I don’t know. But it’s safe to say you’ll dig what we’re cooking up next!

Stay classy America,

~S~ 8-)

P.S. Want to check out some more Suzanne Selfors books?

  • Smells Like Treasure - When the moment Homer has been waiting for–finally becoming a true adventurer–arrives, he is set back by an unexpected foe who starts a battle where the one who solves the clues and finds the loot first will win the prize of becoming an adventurer.
  • Smells Like Pirates - In what could be the finale for the three-part adventure of Homer and Dog, Homer finds himself closer than ever to Rumpold Smeller’s treasure. But when a bitter enemy forms a villainous organization called FOUND, the duo is caught at a gripping decision: either join the dark side to find the prize, or ditch their lifelong quest to find the treasure.
  • To Catch A Mermaid - Since his mother died in a tornado, Boom Broom doesn’t think his life could suck any more. When he finds a baby mermaid that grants infinite wishes, his sister Mertyle is hit by the curse of the merfolk, and Boom and his friend Winger must return the baby mermaid to her mother before it’s too late to break the curse.
  • Fortune’s Magic Farm - When Isabelle discovers she is the heir to Fortune’s Farm, a place where magic remnants grow, she finds an opportunity to break away from her mundane life working at an umbrella factory. Isabelle’s new home full of curative cherry trees and flying fronds looks like paradise, she must harvest the powers of the farm to bring back the sun and stop the despicable Mr. Supreme, owner of the umbrella factory.

Video of the Week: Adande Thorne, aka Swoozie, is probably one of the greatest vloggers on YouTube. Ever since February 2006 he’s been uploading fragments of his life story, and since last year he began using animations to tell his stories. This way was much better for his channel and scraped together millions of hits. This is probably Swoozie’s first video ever that doesn’t tell some part of his life story. Here’s the setup: Swoozie plays the driver of a girl named Alyvia, and as he drives her to an undisclosed location he is suddenly confronted in the middle of the road by a duo of armed diamond thieves. You’ll never believe the ending.

One of the diamond thieves (the guy in the front seat) was Cameron Magruder (better known as Scooter Magruder), who is also a great vlogger. In case you don’t know him, he was a YouTube Next Vlogger who’s been featured on The Today Show, the Orlando Sentinel, the Huffington Post, and even NBA TV! Here are a couple of videos to get yourself recognized with him:

 

 



Hey guys it’s Sam. Back last year I made a post where the good ole Bookie made a post summing up all of the good books that were coming out that year. Now, I’m here to bring it again, and now you won’t have to wait for most of the novels–they will most likely already be out, and I want to introduce my comrades to some new books. So for now, enjoy this delicious smoothie of chopped, crunched, and blended book-world news of what’s cooking this year.

Mind Games (Mind Games, #1)

I’m a huge fan of fast-paced sci-fi thriller novels like Maximum Ride and Witch & Wizard so I think I’d dig this one. This one came out back in February, so it’s gotten lots of time to sink into the mainstream quicksand. You could call this the novelization of Inception if you wanted to, but the latest novel from young adult author Kiersten White really messes with your mind. Mind Games (or Sister Assassin for non-Americans) is a fast-paced psychological thriller starring Fia, whose first impulse to go with her gut is always correct. Annie, Fia’s sister, is sightless to her surrounding world–she only opens her eyes when her mind whizzes with odd visions of the future. The two sisters are taken into a school that uses superhuman females as weapons of corporate espionage, where they must decide repeatedly to use their strange abilities in horrific ways or to risk their lives and fight the system–no matter what the cost.

Young-adult authors might remember Kiersten White as the author of Paranormalcy, an urban fantasy trilogy that introduced her to the world of books and turned her into a NY Times bestselling author. The final novel, Endlessly (how ironic), concluded the saga last year and White is currently making plans for a Paranormalcy film. MTV Music Video Award-winning director Ray Kay is set to direct the movie.

The book received mixed reviews. High praise was given for its spy-fi elements and well-suited ending, but high criticism was given for pretty much everything else, most notably the plain characterization.

Mila 2.0 (MILA 2.0, #1)

Speaking of sci-fi thriller, that brings us to our next novel which came out back in March. In the writing debut of Debra Driza, Mila 2.0, the titular character lives with her mom in a small Minnesota town. She was supposed to forget her harrowing past of being created in a secret computer science lab and programmed to do the humanly impossible. But when Mila discovers her shocking secret, she must flee. Flee from the dangerous operatives who want her dead because she knows too much. Flee from the mysterious group that wants to capture her and unlock her tech. But Mila’s hidden powers will surprise you (and her), and they might just save her life. Her artificially intelligent life.

Mila 2.0 is just the start. Driza plans on making two more books starring Mila to form a Mila 2.0 trilogy. Goodreads described the book as “the first book in a Bourne Identity-style trilogy that combines heart-pounding action with a riveting exploration of what it really means to be human.” They recommended the novel for fans of I Am Number Four, and said that the book’s gripping ending would pave the way for Mila’s second adventure and have readers hungry for more. I guess there really was more to Mila than met my eyes.

The book received generally positive reviews. Its fast-paced action and heart-racing adrenaline rushes were lauded, but its romance overemphasis and lack of emotional connections were noted as something that could’ve been finessed.

Take Timmy Failure, the clueless and confident CEO of the best detective agency in the nation town. Throw in his partner, an imaginary friend in the form of a polar bear named Total. Throw in Timmy’s mom’s Segway the Failuremobile, and what you have is Total Failure Incorporated, a global enterprise designed to make Timmy wealthy enough to prevent his mom from stressing over bills. But of course, his plan does not include the 4′-tall lady who we shall call She Who Must Not Be Named. Nor does it include Rollo Tookus, who cannot carry out a super-easy spy mission due to his obsession with getting into “Stanfurd”. Stephan Pastis makes a stunning and charming departure from Pearls Before Swine with Timmy Failure: Mistakes Are Made, “the kids’ comedy of the year”. Here are a couple notable blurbs that would look great on the back of the book:

“Timmy Failure is a winner!” – Jeff Kinney, author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid

“Seldom has failure been so likable–or funny.” – Wall Street Journal

“…a great story starring an unforgettable protagonist whose unorthodox approach to detective work (and world domination) will have readers in stitches.” – Lincoln Peirce, author of Big Nate

“Readers should be simultaneously amused and touched by this quirky antihero.” – Booklist

“Pastis has assembled an eccentric and funny cast (running gags revolve around Total’s voracious appetite and a librarian who looks like one of the Hell’s Angels), yet there are also touching interactions to be found…” – Publishers Weekly

Timmy Failure received generally positive reviews. Its well-written humor and charm factors were positively recognized by critics, but some flat characterization and peculiar usage of archaic references were also dissected.

Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles, #2)

You may recognize Marissa Meyer as the unique author of the sci-fi romance novel Cinder (the start of the Lunar Chronicles), which was one of Indie-Bound’s Kids Next List picks for last winter. But the story of our favorite cyborg heroine is not yet over, as her story continues into Scarlet, the thrilling sequel which came out in February. Now after discovering a shocking secret, Cindy’s trying to break out of the clutches of prison in New Beijing (this was after World War IV), but she’ll be the most-wanted fugitive of the Commonwealth even if she succeeds. Halfway around the Earth, Scarlet Benoit has a missing grandma. It turns out there’s a lot Scarlet doesn’t know about Grandma B, nor of the grim danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet meets a street fighter named Wolf who may or may not have the whereabouts of Scarlet’s grandma, she is reluctant to believe Wolf. However, the two are drawn together in some sort of relationship. After Scarlet and Wolf solve one mystery, they run into another when they come across Cindy herself. Now this misfit trio must stay one step ahead Queen Levana, female ruler of the moon colony Luna. That introduces the book’s side plot, where she is attempting to make Kai (the prince of New Beijing) give into his pressures of marrying Levana or evoking a World War V.

In spite of its slow start, the novel received critical acclaim for its deep and complex story, a shrewd and surprising backstory, and impeccable fairy-tale weaving that made it impossible for most people to put Scarlet down. People are still coming up with ideas of how the brand new characters could play vital roles in the final half of the four-part Lunar Chronicles.

Unremembered (Unremembered, #1)

Jessica Brody began writing and “publishing” novels at the age of seven, using materials like cardboard and electrical tape to turn her into an amateur bookbinder. She is no stranger to the world of young adult books–she’s written three already–but this story is her most stellar and unorthodox departure yet. In Unremembered, the beginning of Brody’s new sci-fi saga, a flight courtesy of Freedom Airlines ends horribly and unexpectedly with a crash over the Pacific. No one ever suspected to find survivors among the wreck, and that’s why the sole survivor of the crash has made global headlines. That survivor was 16-year old Seraphina. However, her body shows no signs of the crash, but here’s the kicker–she doesn’t remember boarding the plane. In fact, she doesn’t remember anything before the crash, let alone at all. No one knows why she wasn’t on the passenger manifest, nor can anyone locate her DNA or fingerprints in a single database on Earth. As this astray amnesiac attempts to piece together her empty past, befuddled by a world she doesn’t know and an ominous threat she can’t remember, she discovers an odd boy who claims to have known her before the crash. A boy who claims they were in a relationship. Sera must decide whether or not this boy can be trusted, and if he can protect her from those who have been making her forget.

It turns out you really can’t judge a book by the cover, as Unremembered turned out with very mixed reception. People praised it for having the elements of a sci-fi gem, but criticized it for being an orthodox story that brought nothing unique to the action-thriller genre,  and how its intellectual properties (planning and thoughts) were in over their heads. Oh, and it came out in March.

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin

If you’re like me, you’re very familiar with the fantasy subgenre of “fractured fairy tale”. These kinds of books put twists on classic fairy tales and mend interesting and unexpected worlds around them, taking the original stories to whole ‘nother levels. Examples include Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted, and Adam Gidwitz’s A Tale Dark and Grimm/In A Glass Grimmly. Coincidentally, this story was made for fans of those books. Now rising fantasy star Liesl Shurtliff has given a twist on a classic Grimm story: Rump. This came out just a couple of weeks ago, so it’s probably ankle-deep in the mainstream quicksand. Now, Rump isn’t just short for Rumpelstiltskin–in a magic kingdom where names are destinies, he literally is the rump of everyone’s jokes. But his luck changes when he finds an archaic spinning wheel–he discovers he can spin straw into gold. His best friend whom we’ll call Red (hint hint) warns him of the magic’s darkest dangers, and she’s right. With each spun thread, Rump obliviously weaves himself deeper and deeper into a curse. To break the curse, he must go on a dangerous quest and fight off pixies, trolls, poisonous apples, and a maliciously foolish queen.

Rump got positive reception for having the fun side that most stories fail to have, full of delightful adventures and hidden messages such as greed and friendship.

Pulse (Pulse, #1)

From the look of this cover, you may already tell this has something to do with sci-fi. Well, if you guessed that, you’re right. This is indeed a sci-fi story called Pulse from the author of Skeleton Creek, which came out in February. 38 years from now, the world is still recognizable. No world wars, no apocalypse, no Republics or Capitols–I’m assuming. Well, the country has been split into two “super States” (what.), and protagonist Faith Daniels attends what is little more than a teenage daycare. In the future, select teens have “pulses” which grant them with the power to move things with their minds. In other words, they’re telekinetic. Faith discovers that she has a pulse with the help of a mysterious classmate named Dylan. Faith uses her powers against telekinetic masters so powerful they could pancake their enemies using uprooted street lights and shifted boulders. But even with a pulse, the mind can be hard to control. So can the heart. If Faith and Dylan want to combine forces and save the world of the future, she must harness both and discover that real power comes from within.

Reception for Pulse was mixed to negative. Its unexplained future was heavily panned alongside its conspicuous lack of action-packed adventure, plus its underwhelming characters and relationships and a greatly deceiving synopsis. In fact, here’s how one Goodreads user put it: “…almost non-existent adventure (unless you consider moving cups with your mind adventure), poor and mostly unlikable and under-developed characters and extremely unhealthy relationships.” Wow, is a story about telekinesis and saving the world that bad?

Also, the finale for Laurie Halse Anderson’s award-winning Seeds of America trilogy (started by Chains and continued by Forge) is forthcoming. It’s going to be called Ashes, and the plot is as of now unknown. The book may be releasing this year as opposed to 2014, but I guess we need to stay tuned for those news.

Ah, finally. We’ve saved the best for last. People who mowed through the Hunger Games trilogy and were starving for more turned Veronica Roth’s Divergent into an award-winning NY Times bestseller. When the book’s sequel Insurgent came out, people turned that into yet another award-winning bestseller. The two books became so successful that Roth is currently planning for a Divergent movie! (Check her Twotter feed to stay tuned. Yeah, I did that on purpose.) But now, after months of theories and guesses, Roth’s epic finale to her trilogy is coming this October–Allegiant. Yeah, Roth sarcastically gave the book the name of Detergent, but some people thought it was called Convergent, and that’s how this came up:

Anyway, check out Amazon’s and Goodreads’ summary to the explosive end to Roth’s smashing saga. (Oh, like my amazing alliteration?)

What if your whole world was a lie?
What if a single revelation—like a single choice—changed everything?
What if love and loyalty made you do things you never expected?

The explosive conclusion to Veronica Roth’s #1 New York Times bestselling Divergent trilogy reveals the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent.

Stay tuned and stay hungry for Allegiant when it hits stores October 22. But for now, here’s a link to Roth’s Twotter:

https://twitter.com/VeronicaRoth

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That was fun! If you plan on reading any of my recommended books, post it in the comments below. Make sure to subscribe if you’re new, and don’t forget–press the like button. Now just stay tuned until next time to get more awesomeness courtesy of Sammwak!

Stay classy America,

~S~ 8-)

Video of the Week: If you’ve stuck with me long enough, you probably know who Nick Bertke is. He’s the greatest mixer of all time, that’s who he is. He goes under the stage name Pogo (his channel’s called “Fagottron”), and although he has less than 250,000 subs, his videos have gotten millions of hits and millions of fans for his unique remixes of movies and TV shows. His best works include remixes of Harry PotterMary PoppinsAlice in Wonderland (1951), and Snow White & the 7 Dwarfs. Today’s video of the week is a Pogo remix from two years ago with nearly 750,000 hits. It’s a remix of HR Pufnstuf. If you don’t know what that is, sit back and enjoy this lesson.

Back in the 60s, there were these people named Sid & Marty Krofft. They made a show called HR Pufnstuf, which ran in 1969 on NBC. Yes, I said NBC. However, the show was so successful it stayed on the Saturday morning schedule until 1972. The show’s about a boy named Jimmy who takes his magic flute named Freddy and rides a boat to Living Island, where everything from clocks to houses are anthropomorphic. The island’s mayor is a dragon whom is the title character of the show, who takes Jimmy in to protect him from the show’s antagonist Witchiepoo. In a nutshell, it’s basically a psychedelic Sesame Street.

Because I love you guys so much, here’s the Bonus Video of the Week. It’s another Pogo remix, but you should be able to tell what got remixed from the name of the video.

Sam out.



Back last year, I did a full review of the Bone graphic novel saga by Jeff Smith, one of the best graphic novelists I know. In case you don’t have time for playbacks, here’s what I scored each book (remember, this was the old template):

  • Out from Boneville - “an energetic start to a great graphic novel series…” (20/30)
  • The Great Cow Race - “…the best book of the pack!” (30/30)
  • Eyes of the Storm - “…the darkest addition yet.” (24.5/30)
  • The Dragonslayer - “…may not be the best Bone book since The Great Cow Race, but it’s a full-fleshed attempt at it” (24/30)
  • Rock Jaw - “…great premise and dazzling excitements” (22/30)
  • Old Man’s Cave - “…a barbaric warrior…with well-played action, adventure, and drama” (26/30)
  • Ghost Circles - “…a good wallop of laughs, action, adventure, and excitement that will definitely go into the scrapbook.” (23.1/30)
  • Treasure Hunters - “…solely the lowlight of the Bone saga.” (17.5/30)
  • Crown of Horns - “…a mightily entertaining–and epic–conclusion.” (23/30)

Now I’m back to review another graphic novel, from the same Scholastic imprint that’s been with Mr. Smith since the start. This one has to be one of the most unique comic novels I’ve ever read–and it’s not just because it introduces a new writing style or has vivid pictures. It has both of those, don’t get me wrong. But here’s the reason why it really stuck out to me–it’s not a wild over-the-top fantasy like Bone or Amulet–it’s an autobiographical story, a memoir! Eat Pray LoveDiary of a Young GirlRunning With ScissorsMarley & Me: A Dog Like No Other, those are all memoirs. But none of those tell a story quite like this.

Released in February 2010 by Raina Telgemeier and Scholastic/Graphix, and based off of Smile: A Dental Drama, a webcomic created by Telgemeier, Smile is an auto-bio that takes place during the 1980s and early 1990s, following Raina’s years from a preteen to a real teen. One night after a Girl Scout meeting, Raina’s friends race her to the porch. However, Raina trips and falls right onto the side of the road, busting out one of her front teeth and jamming the other up into her gum. What follows is nearly five years of on-off braces, surgery, ignominious headgear, even a retainer with false teeth! However, Raina’s dental drama is only a portion of her problems–a gnarly earthquake leaves her town shaken and stirred, Raina begins to notice two big crushes, and friends who turn out to be not very friendly. The story evolves with Raina as she goes into high school, finds her true artistic voice and real friendship, and finds a place where she can really smile.

Check out this interesting picture of Raina that offers an inside look at her teeth! I’ll have you know folks, this was in summer 1989! She was 12 years old!

PRESENTATION: Smile was the breakthrough for an inglorious author, and it’s easy to see why. Raina tells her story clearly without any narrative exposition (okay, so a few helpful names here and there), and she writes it in such a way that you can feel the emotions she’s feeling. The terror in her eyes during the earthquake when the floor begins to tremble under her feet. The amazement in her eyes when she sees The Little Mermaid for the first time. The sorrow in her eyes when she has to replace her real teeth with false teeth. The anger in her eyes when she stands up to her not-so-friendly friends. Raina tells this story impeccably and powerfully, in a way that’s just as unique as the premise itself. The illustrating work done with Raina and Steph Yue (whom provided the pictures’ color) has to be one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen in a graphic novel. Not as simplistic as Captain Underpants, not as detailed as Bone, but a nice balance in between the two. (10/10)

STORY: Same main ideas. Also, some people may be able to relate to the story such as people who are bullied at school, going through orthodontic treatment, and the like. (10/10)

FUN: Raina cracks a few jokes here and there to keep readers smiling. Also, since Raina’s story takes place in the 80’s and 90’s, there are tons of pop culture references, some more blatant than others. Raina owns an NES and is seen playing Super Mario Bros and Wizards & Warriors. Raina’s sister unsuccessfully tries to persuade her to buy DuckTales. Q*bertKid Icarus, and NES Soccer also make cameo appearances at the store. (10/10)

STYLE: Time for some restating. The humor and drama come in packs, and Smile puts up a fine balance between light-hearted humor and realistic drama. The book has ravishing illustrations that make everything look more down-to-earth. (10/10)

QUANTITY/QUALITY: Smile may not be told in real chapters, but it feels like Raina’s life is being told step by step, chapter by chapter, week by week. It has a great story to tell, and the quality of it is–dude, we’ve been over this. Giddy humor, raw drama, amazing illustrations, great connections, blah blah blah.  (10/10)

FINAL VERDICT: Smile is one of the best graphic novels you’ll ever read, telling a powerful story mixed with giddy humor and realistic drama and emotion, topped off with great illustrations that make this book a true gem among Scholastic’s Graphix lineup. (10/10)

FINAL SCORE: I, Sammwak, am proud to give Raina Telgemeier’s Smile the first ever JGB 2.0 perfect score, 60/60, which gets it an automatic A+. Raina really deserved it, but hopefully after her Girl Scout meetings she remembers to walk to the porch this time. Heck, to show you how good this book really is, I’m gonna give it a seal of approval!

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Anyway, that’s a wrap for this week here at Sammwak! Have an awesome Spring Break, and I’ll see you next week (hopefully)!

Stay classy America,

~S~ 8-)

Video of the Week: I was gonna put up a Harlem Shake this week, but then today my art teacher showed me this. It’s a 6-minute short film called Pigeon Impossible, about a young man who is a rookie secret agent I’ll call Discount Jake Gyllenhaal. Now, Discount Jake here is dealing with a problem that most rookies don’t come around–what happens when an inquisitive little pigeon makes its way inside your nuclear, government-issued, multi-million-dollar briefcase? Find out in this video that’s already gone viral with 1.8 million hits.

Oh, what the hey, here’s the greatest Harlem Shake you’ll probably ever see in the history of the universe EVER. Also, it might be the final Harlem Shake. Take a click to see why.



I’ve already reviewed the first two novels in James Patterson’s bestselling Middle School series starring young troublemaker Rafe Khatchadorian. Now for some “I-don’t-mean-to-brag-but” fun facts. For his work, Patterson became the 2010 Children’s Choice Book Awards Author of the Year, and he received more than than 15,000 votes in a category shared with fellow middle-grade authors like Carl Hiaasen and Rick Riordan. His Witch & Wizard series was introduced to the biggest launch of a young-reader series in history, surpassing sales of the first Twilight, the first Wimpy Kid, and The Lightning Thief. Last year JP sold more books than Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Dan Brown, and John Grisham combined. He’s grossed over $3 billion in global sales, which is higher than the theatrical gross of Avatar–and that’s the highest-grossing movie ever! But Patterson stayed humble with his achievements, and last December–a mere two weeks before Christmas Eve 2012–he decided to shake things up. He released a brand new realistic fiction story that didn’t star Rafe. Yep, he incorporated an entirely new universe and one of the most unique plots I’ve ever seen. JP’s new book is totally funny–in fact, it’s so funny it even has it in the name.

What I consider to be the spiritual successor to JP’s Middle School series, I Funny is a unique story by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, who he also worked with for Armageddon, a novel in JP’s Daniel X series. This book centers on Jamie Grimm, a young lad about Rafe’s age who lives in Long Island, CA–more specifically, at Long Beach. He is an aspiring stand-up comic who’s been studying the techniques of classic comedians from Homer Simpson to George Carlin and probably every comic in between. His uncle Frankie runs a local diner (kind of like Swifty’s Diner, the place Rafe’s mom works), and he has a few pals at school–Pierce, Gaynor, Gilda, and Suzie (aka “Cool Girl”). But however, just like Rafe’s relationship with Miller the Killer, Jamie’s got a big bully on his back–Stevie Kosgrov, Long Beach’s bully of the year 3 years straight. However, what’s worse about Stevie is that he’s–er, for the sake of spoilers, I’ll just skip that one.

Anyway, Jamie lives with his adoptive family which he dubbed “the Smileys”–ironically, they haven’t cracked a grin in who knows how long. This is a perfect audience for Jamie’s jokes, because if he can get them to laugh, he can get anyone to. In fact, he tries out his jokes on everyone from his classmates to the customers at Frankie’s diner! Jamie has hopes of entering and maybe even winning the Planet’s Funniest Kid Comic contest. But when he goes up in front of an audience for the first time, the following events change his life forever–the most essential being meeting the girl of his dreams. Also, what makes Jamie such a character to root for is that he can’t walk, and takes his wheelchair everywhere he goes. Now, who can’t feel sympathy for that?

PRESENTATION: I Funny delivers an ingenious balance of humor and drama, the same mix that made Rafe’s first adventure a real home run. However, what makes this mix a bit more unique is that the humor and drama come in bundles, the humor is more genuine and easy to “get” (although some readers who are familiar with the comics may know some of the jokes). The drama is raw and emotional, and a few times in the story my inner self actually cried. Rarely in a book do I cry while reading it. Albeit Laura Park, JP’s long-time illustrator, draws the detailed pictures of the story, she gives I Funny its own special something, making pictures look more polished and realistic. (10/10)

STORY: Jamie tells his story with realism and cracks some jokes or introduces some scenic situations that actually make a story a bit “mushy”, just like Rafe would. However, aside from humor and drama, Jamie tells a very down-to-earth story that incorporates real-life things like bullying, friendship, a first love, and broken hearts. Jamie is a character most readers would root for, especially after all you see him go through in the book. Connections between characters are strong as well. However, there’s one thing that won’t make me give I Funny a perfect score in this category–Jamie uses Rafe’s same “fake reality” techniques to try and zest up the story. In this case, Jamie believes that most of the Long Beach community is made up of zombies, but they are shown to be more funny than freaky. The book feels a lot like Rafe had helped Jamie write it–for better and for worse. (9/10)

FUN: It’s entertaining to watch Jamie spin his tale in a way that tons of authors have done, but it’s still nonetheless very unique. It’s intriguing to picture the events that occur in the book from the factual to the fictional, and the vivid imagery–if you saw my last JGB 2.0, you’d know that was almost the exact same stanza I used for Rafe’s second adventure. I Funny and Get Me Out of Here share lots of the same jokes, sequences, and connections, which says something if JP wanted this book to stand out more. However, this book does lots of media referencing–comics like Ellen DeGeneres, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, George Carlin, Yakov Smirnoff, Steve Martin, Steven Wright, and Kevin James. Speaking of Kevin James, Jamie also references his star role in Paul Blart: Mall Cop several times. References to KGB, acme (a staple in 20th century comedy like Looney Tunes), Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Penn Station, The Brady BunchHarry Potter, and much more. Hey–I think all that referencing just won this book its half of a point back.  (10/10)

STYLE: Time for some restating. The humor and drama come in bundles, the humor is more genuine and easy to “get” (although some readers who are familiar with the comics may know some of the jokes). The drama is raw and emotional, and a few times in the story my inner self actually cried. Rarely in a book do I cry while reading it. Albeit Laura Park, JP’s long-time illustrator, draws the detailed pictures of the story, she gives I Funny its own special something, making pictures look more polished and realistic. (10/10)

QUANTITY/QUALITY: I Funny has a great story to tell, and it took 69 chapters to tell it! In fact, the book begins with Jamie choking onstage (forgetting his setups and such), and then it flashes back a while. JP managed to tell enough story and pack in enough element, characterization and such, to meet up to that point in the book, which actually doesn’t come until very late. It’s great how you get to know people like Pierce, Gaynor, Gilda, and Cool Girl, and how they interact with Jamie. How their relationship with him changes as the book progresses and you begin to relate to Jamie more. This is the kind of feeling that I got when I reached the dramatic climax of Middle School, Worst Years of My Life where everything kinda reached its summit. (10/10)

FINAL VERDICTI Funny packs the same wallops of humor and drama that Rafe would, but the humor is more authentic and the drama is more raw and tearjerking–never has Patterson told such a dynamic story that has the powerful plot lines that really make this  the third hit of JP’s threepeat. (10/10)

FINAL SCORE59 out of 60 –> 98% –> A+

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Check out some vids from JP’s official YouTube channel!

Ah, what a day. Well, make sure to tune in next week for more awesomeness courtesy of Sammwak!

Stay classy America,

~S~ 8-)

Videos of the Week: Check out these mind-blowing Nick mixes from my ole buddy Nick Bertke, aka “Pogo”. For y’all who don’t know who he is, he is literally the greatest mashup artist on Earth. He’s made groundbreaking remixes of Harry PotterDexterUpToy StoryMonsters, IncWilly Wonka and the Chocolate FactoryMary PoppinsSnow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the list goes on folks. Tragically, last Thursday Nick put up a 3-minute video explaining how and why he is no longer allowed to enter the USA for the next decade. I mean, the poor lad got sent to the big house for 3 weeks! Never would I think of Pogo as an inmate. Anyway, here’s the video…

…and to cheer you up, here are two amazing Pogo mixes you can jam to. The first one is an iCarly remix, made in honor of the series ending after five years of being one of Nick’s greatest hits. The music in the mix ranges from all of the show’s seasons, and you may be able to pick out some episodes. The second one is a SpongeBob remix, which also ranges from all of the show’s seasons, and you may also be able to pick out some episodes. ENJOY!



As you can tell, this is no longer the Jolly Good Bookie I’ve been using for a few years–this is JGB 2.0. I got rid of that annoying Common Sense chart and replaced it with a more simplistic chart designed after IGN’s. Also, all reviewed books will get graded on a scale from E to A+. Anyway, on a completely different note, back in December I reviewed Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, a novel by James Patterson who is famous for writing Witch & Wizard and Maximum Ride. Here are some of my most acclaiming snippets from the post:

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“…one of the greatest school stories I’ve ever read…”

“…thorough, fleshed comedy with sincere, heart melting drama…”

“Patterson is clearly a unique writer as he actually manages to give us those pangs that make us feel like we’re on the verge of tears…”

“…makes a joke out of middle school in a way that is rare for most favored kids’ authors…”

“…a book that you can’t find around the corner.”

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Now, three months later, I’ve read the sequel to this book and now hold the answer to this burning question: “Will Rafe’s second adventure build upon the first, build alongside the first, or build away from the first?”

rafe_msgmoh

Released last May, almost a year after the original bestseller, Middle School: Get Me Out of Here! is Rafe Khatchadorian’s second middle school adventure written by the well-renowned James Patterson and the not-nearly-as-popular Chris Tebbetts, alongside the book’s illustrator Laura Park. Anyway, if you read Rafe’s first novel, you’d know that his story isn’t as stereotypical and cheesy as most school stories are–his is deeper, more realistic, better to relate to. This sequel doesn’t pick up where Worst Years of My Life left off–it travels forward in time to the seventh grade. Now, for the sake of non-spoilers, let’s just say Rafe doesn’t hold a very great status at Hills Valley anymore. Now, after the fiery death of Swifty’s Diner, he’s moved on to a new life in a new city, now having been accepted to a fancy art school known as Cathedral Academy. But Rafe’s plans of living a worry-free life are down the drain–he has to keep his grades afloat, or else he won’t get accepted back into Cathedral for eighth grade. For Rafe’s first art project, he needs to turn his life into a work of art to show who he is. Instead of doing that, he teams up with his good pal Leo the Silent and creates his second mission, Operation: Get A Life. From playing poker to visiting an art museum, Rafe’s gonna have to learn the art of trying something new. But when Get A Life unravels secrets about the side of the Khatchadorians Rafe’s never known, his life takes a big detour…

rafe_sky-is-falling

PRESENTATION: Just like its predecessor, Get Me Out of Here is realistic and down-to-earth, with Rafe’s incredibly descriptive and always hilarious drawings put in alongside the story. Nothing has really changed since the original, which is kinda bad since the book needs to have some uniqueness. (9/10)

STORY: Rafe tells his story clearly and deeply, although he has high tendencies to exaggerate story elements like turning his teachers into monsters or going hang-gliding with Leo the Silent. This was kind of like in the original Dork Diaries when Nikki had an excruciatingly high tendency to say things in her head. This is a very annoying flaw, but otherwise the book’s storytelling ability is proficient. (8.5/10)

FUN: It’s entertaining to watch Rafe spin his tale in a way that tons of authors have done, but it’s still nonetheless very unique. It’s intriguing to picture the events that occur in the book from the factual to the fictional, and the vivid imagery makes the book feel less like something an artificial intelligence like Siri would cough up. (Not that I’m saying Siri would ever cough up such a thing.) (10/10)

STYLE: Rafe’s detailed pictures go great with his bubbly storyli–okay, now I think I’m just restating the same main idea. (10/10)

QUANTITY/QUALITY: This category just asks a book, “How much story do you have, and is all that story told well?” In this case, the story is abundant and told extremely well, although it’s almost as immersive as it could’ve been whatsoever. But hey–I’ve said too much good about the book to start getting bad. But speaking of which, the book kinda does get confusing with all these new elements added to Rafe’s persona, and I was wondering if James Patterson wrote the right story a few chapters in. But as soon as I saw Rafe pull an unsuccessful prank, I knew I was back in business. Thank gosh. (9/10)

FINAL VERDICT: Middle School: Get Me Out of Here! may be an unexpected new leaf for some old fans of Rafe, but they’ll appreciate the same deep storyline and playful imagery that was incorporated in Rafe’s first adventure. It’s an ingenious novel that will keep readers hooked and have them hungry for the next installment in Rafe’s middle school adventures. (9.5/10)

FINAL SCORE: 56 out of 60, which equals a 93% score which gets this book an A.

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But the post doesn’t end there. Check out some juicy news about James Patterson’s plans for the future!

As you can see here, Mr. Patterson has already gotten the next two Middle School novels up for release later this year. The first book, My Brother Is A Big Fat Liar, tells the story from Georgia’s perspective instead of Rafe’s! Georgia plans to excel at all the spots Rafe failed at HVMS, and she makes a bet with Rafe that she’ll become just as famous as him. However, G may have bitten off more than she can chew–Rafe’s troublesome acts at the school left a big impression on the school, and no one’s even bothering to give G a second glance. However, things go from bad to worse when Rafe furtively signs up his band to play at the school dance! (Since when was Rafe in a band like Big Nate?) G refuses to make an ignominious impression on her crush as well as the school’s clique, but she’s determined to win her bet and prove Rafe wrong at all costs, even if it means putting her HVMS rep on the line. Will she succeed, or will Rafe win? Check out My Brother Is A Big Fat Liar to find out when it hits stores next Monday.

The next book, How I Survived Bullies, Broccoli, and Snake Hill, is indeed the third Middle School novel first foreshadowed by Rafe himself at the end of Get Me Out of Here. Rafe is stoked for a fun 3-month stay at summer camp–until he realizes that it’s a summer school camp. Luckily, Rafe manages to befriend his cabinmates and bunkmate, as well as a boy nicknamed Booger Eater. Rafe soon finds out that there’s more to BE than meets the eye, and maybe he’s just the guy you want to know when the Cool Cabin kids attack. Wow, this plot is very similar to Fred 3: Camp Fred, with the whole “good camp vs. lame camp” concept. This book will take a longer wait–it won’t come out until June, which is rather convenient.

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We all know that James Patterson’s revered sci-fi adventure saga, Maximum Ride, came to an end when Nevermore came out last year. However, besides the manga series being still alive, Patterson knows the canon is not yet dead. And he’s deciding to honor one of his greatest hits with one of the biggest blowouts an author can produce–Maximum Ride movie. That’s right, the flock, the Erasers, and the School are all coming to the big screen. News about a Max Ride movie began spreading as far back as fall 2007, and James Patterson would be the movie’s executive producer. Steven Paul is also a producer alongside Avi Arad, who has worked on films like Spider-Man and X-Men. Apparently, Arad got so full of himself he planned out a second movie as well. (If you’ve seen Anthony Horowitz’s scrapped plans for an Alex Rider film series, you know that pride like this is dangerous.)

Columbia Pictures bought screen rights to the movie in 2008, and the film was expected to release 2 years later. Twilight‘s director Catherine Hardwicke had planned to direct, and in 2010 she had requested that the movie script be rewritten to include more action. (Oh, gosh.) This delayed the movie’s release to this year. In February 2011, Maximum Ride‘s Facebook page asked fans who they’d want to play Max, and also stated that the movie would be released in 3D. Unfortunately, by last year Hardwicke dropped out, and Patterson said he was “very hopeful as opposed to mildly depressed.” Sadly, the movie is as of now cancelled, but we can only hope that by 2014 Patterson can get his chin back up.

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Ah, so much info, my brain is hurting! Well, as my cerebellum cools down, let’s call it a week. But make sure to stay tuned for more awesomeness courtesy of Sammwak! Stay tuned for more James Patterson books, too!

Stay classy America,

~S~ 8-)

Videos of the Week: The channel of the week award goes to TomSka for his latest episode of his gut-busting asdfmovie series. “asdfmovie5″ back from May was kind of a letdown in my book–all of the skits were new, and not once did the I Like Trains Kid appear! Anyway, this new video is hilarious, and it’s really put Tom’s random humor skills to work. Hey–at least Mine Turtle shows up again and makes me realize that Tom has found a new running gag for his videos.



Menacing 8th graders who embark in daily manhunts for fresh cold cuts. 7th graders who are just as threatening just to get vengeance to what happened to them as 6th graders. And then are the real 6th graders who have to have their innocent bodies, minds, and souls mangled day after day. At least, that’s how most people think of middle school. Especially the protagonist of today’s book. The actual Google Dictionary definition of a middle school itself “a school intermediate between an elementary school and a high school, typically for children in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades”. A fearful environment for the squeamish and scared, but an interesting and rather intriguing environment for the brave and bold. And the main character of this story has just gotten his rank as the eldest knocked back down to the youngest. And even in school years it’s hard to climb that ladder.

Likely if you broke a rule or two in elementary school, you were likely punished through the step system, from assertive reminders to expulsion, although this was rarely common. However, in middle school that’s completely common–in fact, according to my school’s code of conduct, any form of assault, arson, illegal substance transferring or selling (aka drug dealing), sexual harassment, and vandalism are just some of the ways that you could get a one-way ticket to Expelville! But in this school, the only way to follow the rules…are to break them. In Middle School: The Worst Years Of My Life by James Patterson, also the author of Maximum Ride and Witch & Wizard, Patterson finally takes the route of a realistic fiction story in his most innovative concept yet. Well, you may be considering this ironic, but wouldn’t you find normality innovative when you write about kids with wings and magical powers? Anyway, the story revolves around Rafael “Rafe” Khatchadorian, a young kid who’s just been enrolled in Hills Valley Middle School, the former site of what Rafe believes was a prison for Pilgrims and is now a prison for 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. (By the way, Khatchadorian is pronounced “Catch a door, Ian!”) But much like in series like Wimpy Kid and Big Nate Rafe finds himself trouble in the first few days of mid school. First off, he becomes the new victim of Miller the Killer, he has to face “Dragon Lady” Donatello every single day, and then there’s Jeanne Galletta whom is Rafe’s second-closest thing on the lines of a friend. Only behind his partner-in-crime, Leonardo the Silent. And he already has enough problems at home; there’s his “grizzly” stepfather Bear (his real name’s Carl), his tattletale sister Georgia, and then there’s his mom. There’s nothing wrong with Mrs. Khatchadorian, it’s just that she has to do all the work while Bear just catches up on football pregame shows. But there’s one way that Rafe discovered that will truly make his mark in HVMS history–making a little project known as Operation RAFE (short for Rules Aren’t For Everyone) and breaking every rule in Hills Valley’s despotic code of conduct before he loses his “three lives”:

  • Talking in class – 10,000 points with 4 witnesses required.
  • Running in the hall – 10,000 points with 4 witnesses required.

(Sure, running in the hall is as bad as talking. Surerolleyes)

  • Tardy for class – 10,000 points with 4 witnesses required.
  • Gum in class – 5,000 points with 4 witnesses required.
  • No electronics – 7,500 points with 4 witnesses required.
  • Fighting – 25,000 points with 4 witnesses required.
  • Skipping class – 20,000 points with 4 witnesses required.
  • Minor dress code defying – 10,000 points with 4 witnesses required.
  • Major dress code defying – 20,000 points with 4 witnesses required.
  • Cussing – 20,000 points with 4 witnesses required.
  • School property destruction – 35,000 points with witnesses required only afterward.
  • Messing with fire alarms – 50,000 points with 4 witnesses required.
  • School property theft – 40,000 points with 4 witnesses required.

And then there are the bonus points available…

  • Jeanne sees it – 5,000-infinite points
  • Sent to vice principal’s office – 20,000 points
  • Sent to actual principal’s office – 30,000 points
  • Detention – 50,000 points
  • Talking way out of principal’s/VP’s office or detention – 100,000 points!!!

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Now Middle School, The Worst Years Of My Life is actually one of the greatest school stories I’ve ever read. It does something that neither Wimpy Kid nor Big Nate nor Dork Diaries nor [insert school story series here] can do. It mixes thorough, fleshed comedy with sincere, heart melting drama. Because the deal with the series I mentioned is that it focuses too much on how good its jokes are than paying attention to its heart. Patterson is clearly a unique writer as he actually manages to give us those pangs that make us feel like we’re on the verge of tears, and he creates Rafe to greatly exemplify this. However, the book’s only fatal flaw is its jagged transitions between home and school scenarios, but it is something that will go over most readers’ heads. As for the book’s own comedy, it is just as incomparable as its drama. With hundreds of illustrations to go with or display gut-busting humor, the story makes a joke out of middle school in a way that is rare for most favored kids’ authors. And add up all this together, and you get a book that you can’t find around the corner. Chart, please.

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 1 1/4 out of 5 – Educational value – The Shakespearean meter and rhyme is briefly discussed. The book also partially acts a survival guide towards middle school.

 4 1/2 out of 5 – Positive messages – Rafe has a hard life at both school and at home, but he never loses his prospect that one day he will be of great value. Leo is a good character that both helps Rafe with his plot and becomes the assertive head of it. This shows that sometimes you need to put certain people in their place, and you can’t merely give everybody the same exact perspective. At the story’s epic climax, Rafe also discovers that some people aren’t who they seem to be, and in their true form they can have unexpected abilities. Not that I’m saying they have powers. Operation RAFE also dictates that sometimes you have to be bold and stand up for yourself, even if it means some repercussions.

4 out of 5 – Positive role models – Despite Rafe’s image throughout the book as a rule-breaking and rebellious troublemaker, Rafe is an endearing, trustworthy, heartfelt, compassionate, and kind character outside of Operation RAFE–even towards annoying little Georgia. Despite not saying much, Leo is also a good character that serves as a good companion to Rafe and his scheme. Even Bear himself, one the book’s main “antagonists”, shows care and lookout whenever danger or injury is present. Jeanne is a nice girl who likes to say things to people without directly offending them, and she is also a very willing character in the story.

 4 out of 5 – Ease of read – Middle School is definitely one of those school stories that makes it mark in my mind and my heart, being able to mix its unique senses of comedy with perfectly sincere drama and heartfelt moments, and with the character that it puts in, this book is easily one of the best realistic fiction novels I’ve ever read. Definitely a recommendation as some sort of survival guide to middle schoolers or soon-to-be middle schoolers. However, the book’s big transition flaw does take away a lot from it.

4 1/2 out of 5 – Violence – Miller the Killer and Bear definitely provide the two biggest sources of violence in the story. Miller frequently pushes, pummels, and picks on Rafe throughout the story, even going as far as to rob him of his Operation RAFE notebook! An illustration in the story depicts Miller towering over Rafe, whom is seen as “dead meat”. In the same illustration, Miller sports a bloody knife tattoo on most of his forearm. Rafe describes his relationship with Miller as “[selling his] soul to the school bully, one dollar at a time” since Miller had been forcing cash out of Rafe to give him back the notebook a page at a time. One dollar’s worth one page, if you didn’t already calculate. Bear is even ruder to Rafe acting as his own at-home Miller, frequently criticizing and yelling at the rest of the family. In pictures Bear is depicted as a live bear in “hibernation” on the couch. In the book’s tearjerking climax–spoiler alert!–Bear gets into yet another heated argument with Mrs. Khatchadorian, but goes far enough to shove her down the house’s front steps, hurting her wrist and likely breaking her heart. At this point, Rafe decides to jump in and save the day by yelling in Bear’s face. Bear eventually winds up in the back of a police cruiser, but is not arrested. Later near the book’s finale, Mrs. Khatchadorian reminisces a sad memory about how Rafe had actually had a brother back in the day, but a bad case of meningitis claimed him at a young age. (Kinda like how my brother got malaria as a kid–or so my dad says–but he’s still alive now, healthier than ever. My brother, I mean. My dad’s alive, too.) ***Spoiler alert ends here.*** Georgia and Rafe also get in heated arguments, mainly concerning Rafe’s school rebellion. A rather far-fetched illustration also shows Rafe’s bedroom, which appears to be a ragged and torn-apart place with liquid dripping from the ceiling and a raccoon as his “roommate”. In the picture, he is conversing with a rat about what fraction of a blanket he received. Rafe is wearing his blanket half like a straitjacket, and he seems very deranged and insane. Many illustrations depict Rafe’s teachers as demonic, monstrous, and vile creatures, most notoriously “Dragon Lady” Donatello, whom Rafe uses to make stories of him as a knight facing off against this “dragon”.

 1 1/2 out of 5 – Inappropriate Content – Rafe has a crush on Jeanne throughout the story, whom happens to be HVMS’s most popular female student. One of the rules Rafe breaks in the dress code is the clothes-size rule, and he breaks it (on Halloween, matter of fact) by showing up to school sagging. Georgia later references this as Rafe being “naked” at school.

1 out of 5 - Language – “Shut up” is said once or twice, alongside “dead meat” and Miller’s other bully-like insults.

2 out of 5 – Product Placement – One of the most centric elements of the story is an energy drink known as Zoom, which Rafe describes as “chocolate and Coke mixed together, and it has about eight cups of caffeine in every can”. As part of Operation RAFE, Rafe eats a Snickers bar in the school library. 

1 out of 5 – Drinking, Drugs, and/or Smoking – Bear is a heavy drinker of Zoom and keeps a stash of it in the garage, which Rafe secretly steals from and sells to students at school like drugs, to make savings to pay back Miller.

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Entertainment: A+ (5 points)

Fun: A+ (5 points)

Smarts: A (4 points)

Style: A+ (5 points)

Read-Again Ratio: A (4 points)

Humor: A+ (5 points)

FINAL SCORE: 28 out of 30 (mrgreen), 5 stars out of 5, 93% out of 100% (that’s actually an accurate calculation of 28 divided by 30 mrgreen)

CONSENSUS: Middle School, The Worst Years Of My Life has the unique sense of comedy and sincere drama that makes for one of the greatest realistic fiction titles of all time, showing both the upsides and downsides of middle school in Patterson’s own memorable and innovative way. Also for good use as a survival guide to middle school itself.

PRICE: On Amazon, the book costs $8 regular, $4 used, and $3.44 new. The Kindle edition costs $6. For those who say that hearing > reading, the unabridged audiobook version costs $10 regular, $6.23 used, and $5 new. At B&N, the book costs the same $8 regular, $5 used, and $4.49 new. The Nook Book edition is free. Does that help?

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Stay classy America,

~S~ cool

Video of the Week: Now I know all this likely took a lot of effort to read through, so here’s some relaxing music to help you regather your cerebral elements and chill out for a bit. By the way, this song is called “Gentle Breeze” by Manabu Namiki, and it’s from the OST for Trauma Center: Under the Knife 2. (It’s a 2008 medical sim game for the Nintendo DS.) This video, since its release in summer 2009, has over 80,000 hits with almost a thousand likes. Eh, I’d rather not keep rambling about the video–after all, it’s supposed to be chill-out music.



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